Tesla is an automaker that really wants to accelerate automotive innovation, and we’re not just talking about its advanced electric powertrains and battery tech. The company has patented some very cool ideas, some of which it has already used in its production vehicles, others, like the so-called Pulsed Laser Cleaning of Debris Accumulated on Glass Articles in Vehicles and Photovoltaic Assemblies, are still waiting to see it make production.
Recently, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) made the patent, which was submitted in 2019 and granted in 2021, public for anyone to see. This means that even if Tesla never actually uses this idea in production, another company can work on it and ultimately implement it too.
This also gives us a better understanding of how exactly the system would work, thanks to a description that was previously unavailable. Tesla says it is
A cleaning system for a vehicle includes a beam optics assembly that emits a laser beam to irradiate a region on a glass article of the vehicle, debris detection circuitry that detects debris accumulated over the region, and control circuitry.
The control circuitry calibrates a set of parameters associated with the laser beam emitted from the beam optics assembly based on detection of the debris accumulated over the region on the glass article, controls an exposure level of the laser beam on the debris accumulated based on calibration of the set of parameters associated with the laser beam, wherein the exposure level is controlled based on pulsing the laser beam at a calibrated rate that limits penetration of the laser beam to a depth that is less than a thickness of the glass article and removes the debris accumulated over the region on the glass article using the laser beam.
So the system has a means of detecting areas of the screen where there is debris that needs to be cleaned off, then it prepares the laser to target those areas, it adjusts their power depending on how much dirt has accumulated, before proceeding to remove it with a laser beam.
Tesla also says something about allowing the driver to take manual control of the system in order to clean certain areas manually, but this is not explained further. We still wonder how useful and effective something like this would be - sure, having a laser to get rid of big splattered bugs on your screen makes sense, but traditional wipers are far simpler and more sensible for clearing water off the screen when it rains...
This isn't the only unusual way to clean windscreens that was patented by Tesla. Previously, the automaker applied for a patent for a different wiper design most likely destined for use in the Cybertruck - it featured rails and an electromagnetic block instead of a traditional wiper, making it very unusual and apparently only suited for vehicles that have very flat glass.